Portola High School: Founding Principles Prepare Students for the 21st Century

It has been 17 years since Irvine Unified School District opened a new high school in Irvine. It was history in the making on August 24, 2016, as Portola High School opened its doors to welcome freshman students for its inaugural year. Some 400 students now attend this brand new high school and the administration anticipates adding another 500-600 students each year. The school mascot is the Bulldog and you can already find students and administration showing off their school pride on social media using hashtags: #phswoof #phsclassof2020 #ptp.

Portola High gymnasium with mural of school mascot
Portola High gymnasium with mural of school mascot

The new school is located off of Irvine Boulevard adjacent to the Orange County Great Park and serves the neighborhoods of Beacon Park, Lambert Ranch, Los Olivos, Pavilion Park, Portola Springs, Stonegate, Woodbury and will eventually also serve Heritage Fields.1)http://iusd.org/district_services/facilities_planning_and_construction/documents/PHS-QA-3-1-16.pdf

Great Expectations for Irvine’s Newest High School

In keeping with IUSD’s tradition of great schools, there are high expectations for Portola. Principal John Pehrson comes to Portola High after his 10 year appointment with University High School, also in Irvine. During that time, University High has consistently been ranked as one of the top high schools in the country by Newsweek, the Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and the Orange County Register.

Portola High School Principal, John Pehrson
Portola High School Principal, John Pehrson sports the school color purple

A husband, father, teacher and coach with a background in physics and chemistry, Principal Pehrson says his hopes for Portola are:

  • that Portola truly becomes a school where every student belongs, contributes and thrives
  • that we become a school that continues to embrace the ideas around preparing students for the 21st Century
  • that Portola carries on the IUSD culture of excellence while at the same time embodies its own sense of Pride and Spirit that becomes attractive and contagious to families

State-of-the-Art Facilities

Portola High School offers athletic facilities including a football stadium that seats approximately 3,000 people. Their aquatics center features a 50-meter Olympic sized pool with Colorado Timing Systems. As seniors, students will utilize the Innovation Lab for their “Senior Passion Project” to create a product or model, which they will present to a panel of academic, artistic or entrepreneurial experts. There is also a performing arts building with a 720-seat theater, black box and dance studio. Portola High also has a special education facility that will facilitate essential life skills.2)http://iusd.org/district_services/facilities_planning_and_construction/documents/PHS-QA-3-1-16.pdf

Earlier in the construction process, there was some public concern over the safety of the school site, which the school district addressed here and here.

50 meter Olympic sized pool
50  meter Olympic sized pool
Innovation lab
Innovation lab where students will create a product or model for their “Senior Passion Project”

Leadership and Culture at Portola High

One concern that may be on the minds of students and parents at Portola (or any school in Irvine) is that the environment may be too competitive. While some competition can have a positive effect; competition can rise to unhealthy levels at top schools.

On the topic of over-competition, Principal Pehrson said, “We have worked diligently to create, promote and nurture a school program of balance, relevance and purpose.  We will continue to work with our PTSA and community to encourage extracurricular involvement by each student.”

My Mantra: Empowering and supporting people in their journey to reach their maximum potential. –Principal John Pehrson

Portola High students will be encouraged to find their talent and passions. “We will emphasize the idea of developing and pursuing a passion rather than spending every ounce of energy to do every single thing.  We will work with students through advisement to pick one or two interests to really delve into.” said Principal Pehrson.

At a recent event, parents of Portola High students were invited for a BBQ dinner followed by a tour of the campus and parent workshops, including a workshop titled: How to Find Balance While Preparing for College.

Parents of Portola High students attend a Bulldog BBQ Bash in the Student Union building
Parents of Portola High students attend a Bulldog BBQ Bash in the Student Union building

Principal Pehrson recognized the importance of academics but going beyond grades, he took the long view in his vision for the students of Portola High. “We will also focus more on 21st Century skills rather than conquering a set of curricula. While that is important, we know that the future job market will be looking for workers who are collaborative, team players, innovative, flexible, and can think on their own.  These are the skills on which we will focus and celebrate.  Over time, it is our hope that the community will believe in the system and structure we are setting up and will fully embrace and support it.”

To the future students of Portola High School, may this facility provide an environment to help “feed” your mind so you can in return “feed” the world. – Mac Byers, Senior Project Manager at CW Driver

Principal Pehrson’s mantra, which he has posted in his office: “Empowering and supporting people in their journey to reach their maximum potential.”

Inspired Design: The Active Green Roof Project of the Student Union Building

One of the architectural highlights of Portola High is the Student Union building. The building boasts a sleek, modern design and also features a state-of-the-art “active” green roof that utilizes numerous energy saving systems. The roof system was initially tested at Cal Poly Pomona under the direction of Professor Pablo La Roche and then implemented at Portola High by architecture firm, HMC Architects.

A traditional green roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation, providing insulation, reducing heating and cooling costs and reducing stormwater runoff.

Student Union Building featuring an active green roof
Student Union Building featuring an active green roof

Together with Professor La Roche, Eera Babtiwale, an Associate Principal of HMC Architects, designed this one-of-a-kind student union building.

How does the “active” green roof on the Student Union work to save energy and how is it unique from other green roofs?

Eera: The active green roof being implemented at Portola HS in the Irvine Unified School District is a prime example of how synergies between various systems can yield energy savings while simultaneously providing a sustainable living lab for students to learn from. 

Green roofs are typically applauded for their ability to provide thermal mass, a passive solar strategy used to efficiently cool a space, or maintain heat within a space. The active green roof at Portola High School however is unique. The system is composed of a modular green roof which communicates with the building’s HVAC and irrigation system, to passively cool and heat interior spaces, while simultaneously conserving water. 

Five Cutting Edge Features of the Active Green Roof:

  • Green roof feature: thermal mass of the roof passively insulates the building on cold days
  • Green roof feature: cool thermal mass of the active green roof passively cools the interior on warm days
  • Green roof feature: condensate water is collected to irrigate the green roof
  • Active feature: modular green roof communicates with the HVAC and irrigation system to passively cool and heat interior while saving water
  • Educational feature: sensors embedded in the green roof collect and send data to a computer station to teach students about how the green roof system is saving energy.

On cold weather days, the active roof uses thermal mass to keep the building warm. The thermal mass of the roof increases the thermal resistance value of the roof membrane, and thereby passively insulates the building. This reduces the need to mechanically heat the space.

[C]ondensate water that is generated from the air handling unit will be collected into in an underground water storage tank and reused to irrigate the green roof. – Eera Babtiwale of HMC Architects

During warm days, the green roof is able to cool the building. Air is pulled through intakes from the building perimeter and is then drawn across the underside of the active roof. As the air is drawn across, the cool thermal mass of the green roof cools the air. The air is then pushed down to spaces below to passively cool the interior. 

On days when it is too hot to rely on the active roof alone, the air conditioning will be automatically turned on. However, the condensate water that is generated from the air handling unit will be collected into in an underground water storage tank and reused to irrigate the green roof.  This creates a unique synergy because the active roof is able to retain its cooling potential best when it is well saturated. 

There were many decisions and commitments made early on by all stakeholders of the project that have contributed to the extraordinary success of the project. Every construction project has it challenges … but with this project and its high level of teamwork, many things went right. – Mac Byers of CW Driver

In addition to these benefits, the active green roof provides a means of capturing and filtering stormwater, cleaning particulates from the air and creating an acoustic buffer.

Architecture as an Tool for Sustainability Education

It was not enough that the building passively heats and cools itself, Eera and HMC wanted to use the building as an educational tool to teach people about sustainability.

Tell us why sustainability important to HMC and what its hopes are for those who learn about the active green roof project?

Eera: HMC Architects is passionate about using the building to teach and inspire people about sustainability. This is perhaps most important within a school environment, where our next generation of environmental stewards spend at least 5 hours of their day. These 5 hours provide amazing opportunity to educate and inspire students about sustainability. 

[E]verything we do has the ability to have a lasting and positive effect on our shared global environment. – Eera Babtiwale of HMC Architects

Embedded within the active green roof system is a series of sensors which relay soil temperature, soil saturation, air velocity and air temperature to the building management system. This data is collected and then compared to another classroom on campus, which does not have the active green roof system. This data will be made available to students via a computer station so that they too can learn about the active green roof system’s impact on energy use, water use and thermal comfort.

The hope is that they will see how their built environment has a profound effect on their natural environment—and that really everything we do has the ability to have a lasting and positive effect on our shared global environment.

Construction: From Organic Farmland to State of the Art Educational Facility in Under Two Years

Portola High was built by CW Driver, a California construction firm headquartered in Pasadena. Where you now see a state-of-the-art high school was wide open farmland less than two years ago. Mac Byers, Senior Project Manager of the Portola High project at CW Driver talked about the stringent building standards for the construction of this school and the completion of this project.

CW Driver was also the builder for Woodbury and Stonegate Elementary schools here in Irvine, how are education projects different from other types of projects CW Driver works on?

Mac: All educational project fall under the jurisdiction of DSA, Division of the State Architect.  Since they are used for children the design and construction standards are much higher than non-educational standards. Also, many districts like Irvine Unified School District will incorporate additional requirements to provide exceptional learning environments for the students of their district. IUSD, in conjunction with DSA also go to extensive measures to provide a safe and healthy environment for students, faculty and the community as a whole.

CW Driver’s onsite office
CW Driver’s onsite office

This project was divided into four smaller “elementary school” sized projects in order to accelerate the construction schedule. Now that this school will be open to brand new freshmen, how does it feel to see this project completed?

Mac: One of my favorite quotes is, “It is a miracle that anything gets built, whether it is a high-rise or a dog house!” When one considers that every component of a building comes from natural resource; trees, rock, oil, plants, etc. is manufactured, processed, formed to very specific requirements and delivered to a specific location at a specific time and then put together in an expedited manor, using hundreds of companies and thousands of workers, it is a miracle.

There were many decisions and commitments made early on by all stakeholders of the project that have contributed to the extraordinary success of the project. Every construction project has it challenges and problems but with this project and its high level of teamwork, many things went right. 

Portola High gymnasium with seating for 2,000+ people
Portola High gymnasium with seating for 2,000+ people

It is a tremendous satisfaction to have started with an open farm field some two years ago and now hand off a beautiful, start of the art educational facility. Land that was once used to feed the body is now land used to feed the mind! 

To the future students of Portola High School, may this facility provide an environment to help “feed” your mind so you can in return “feed” the world.

There are few milestones in a young person’s life that match that of being a freshman in high school, emotions floating somewhere between nerves and excitement. From its leadership to its design and construction, Portola High has set the tone in its founding principles for its students to become global thinkers of the 21st Century. GO BULLDOGS!

Portola High School
1001 Cadence
Irvine, CA 92618
(949) 936-8202
http://phs.iusd.org/

 

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References   [ + ]

1, 2. http://iusd.org/district_services/facilities_planning_and_construction/documents/PHS-QA-3-1-16.pdf
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